NYC Parents Raise Questions About InBloom

By Elizabeth Woyke     Apr 30, 2013

NYC Parents Raise Questions About InBloom

The education data portal, inBloom, raised hackles this week among a group of New York City parents and educators who worry about thenonprofit’s plans to compile student information into a wide-ranging educationdata portal--and they’re organizing against it via email listservs, openforums and legislative bills.

Local communityopposition to the inBloom plan was palpable on Monday (April 29) night in the Brooklyn Borough Hall at a "studentprivacy town hall meeting" devoted to the issue. Around 150 people gathered to express their frustrations and hear from New YorkDepartment of Education representatives. Holding handmade posters with sloganslike “Our kids, not your data,” the group voiced unease about the creation ofthe portal, which many fear is gathering too much data about their children,will sell information to commercial vendors and will be vulnerable to hacking. 

New York is one of eight states,including Illinois and Massachusetts that is participating in inBloom’s pilottests this year before the software is rolled out more broadly. On April 19, Louisiana Department of Education Superintendent John White withdrew his state's participation in inBloom.

On Monday, the NewYork City DOE tried to allay fears by outlining the privacy and security laws(namely FERPA)that inBloom and other contracted vendors will have to follow whenaccessing student data. The DOE also talked up the portal’s expected benefitsto students, parents and teachers, such as more personalized learning. Butsince the DOE had only one speaking representative at the town hall event,comments from parents and local officials dominated the meeting.

Those comments were occasionallyshouted. Before the meeting even began, a Queens parent yelled to the crowd:“It’s an outrage, an outrage what’s happening here!”

He was referring to thefact that inBloom had not sent a representative and the two New York Staterepresentatives in attendance were there only as observers and would not takequestions. Similar outbursts occurred throughout the event, often accompaniedby applause. Leonie Haimson, a parent advocate and education activist whoorganized the town hall, says she invited inBloom and the Bill & MelindaGates Foundation, which partly funded inBloom, but both declined to appear.

In a recent piece by blogger, Audrey Watters, an inBloom spokesperson offered these comments:

inBloom is not creating a national database. It is providing a secure data service to help school districts manage the information needed for learning, and to support local educational goals. Only school districts decide who has access to that information and for what purpose. Student data will not be combined across states; each participating state and district will have its own protected space in the inBloom service, and they will continue to manage and control access to their student data based on local policies. There is no public or third-party access to data unless it is authorized by a school district or state educational agency to support a local priority. inBloom does not offer any research or aggregated reporting beyond what school districts or state educational agencies implement.

The town hall, whichlasted about two hours, was a mix of speeches, presentations and Q&A time. “I know this is an incredibly volatile issue,” saidMargaret Kelley, the education policy analyst for Brooklyn Borough President MartyMarkowitz.

New York’s LearningDisabilities Association was more direct in its resistance. Executive Director Stephen Boese argued that disclosure of a student’s learningdisability is solely the right of that student or that student’s parent(s), nota “third-party entity” like inBloom. “There is still a lot of discriminationregarding learning disabilities,” noted Boese. “We see abuse of children whenthe wrong information gets out in the cybersphere.

Haimson underscoredthose points in her presentation, which listed the many types of datainBloom could potentially assemble about a student, including race/ethnicity,disciplinary records and economic and disability status. Haimson alsocharacterized data storage ‘in the cloud’ as risky. “This could damage ourchildren’s prospects for life if it leaks out,” she asserted.

In a slide entitled,“Though risks to privacy great, benefits hypothetical,” Haimson questioned theclaims of greater efficiency, data integration and more personalized learningtools proposed by inBloom and its advocates. One cited reason: the NYC DOE has operated a student data system called ARIS since 2008, but Haimson and other parents say it is not helpful and hardlyused.

What most angersHaimson is the lack of parental consent. Since school districts ownand control student data records, parents can’t opt out of New York’s education data portal or other inBloom-based systems. InBloom’s online FAQ instructs worried parents to contact their school districts to “inquire abouttheir policies.”

Adina Lopatin, the NYC DOE’s deputy chief academic officer, spoke after Haimson. Lopatin characterized the upcoming education data portal as similar toARIS, though more fully-featured. She said the portal, which is currently underconstruction, would “support instructional planning and better meet studentneeds” while saving New York money and enabling common data standards for the entire state. 

Lopatin also said inBloom and other vendorswill have to comply with FERPA regulations regarding data privacy and security,that contrary to rumors, none of those entities would ‘own’ or ‘sell’ studentdata  and that New York City and State were only supplying some student demographic, participation and performance information to inBloom,not the full gamut of data inBloom is capable of processing and storing.

Regarding parentalpermission and legality, Lopatin said FERPA has two provisions that allow thistype of data outsourcing (both located in the Act's part 99.31). InBloom is only gathering educational records--noHIPAA information, according to Lopatin. She alsoclarified that New York has already transmitted student data--from across thestate--to inBloom. That disclosure provoked an impassioned response from the audience,which thought the data was still being prepared. 

During the lengthyQ&A that followed Lopatin’s presentation, more than 20 attendees detailedtheir inBloom worries. One retired educatorposited teachers are the best insight into students’ needs. “No databaseis going to be of any use for that,” she said. Several attendees exhorted thecrowd to “take to the streets” and “stand up and fight back.” “Don’t just getangry, call the politicians, tweet about it,” urged one mother. “We should bescreaming from the rooftops…this is scary stuff.”

Haimson is working hard to mobilize parents and ended the meeting by encouraging attendees toask their state senators and assembly members to cosponsor two pending studentprivacy bills. Introduced in March, the companion bills S04284 and A06059 would essentially block inBloom by prohibiting the release of personallyidentifiable student information without parental consent. Haimson alsorecommended contacting New York Regents, who supervise educational activitieswithin the state, and the New York City Schools Chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott.To organize efforts, Haimson has created an email listserv dedicated to studentprivacy issues.


NYC Parents Raise Questions About InBloom

By Elizabeth Woyke     Apr 30, 2013

NYC Parents Raise Questions About InBloom

The education data portal, inBloom, raised hackles this week among a group of New York City parents and educators who worry about thenonprofit’s plans to compile student information into a wide-ranging educationdata portal--and they’re organizing against it via email listservs, openforums and legislative bills.

Local communityopposition to the inBloom plan was palpable on Monday (April 29) night in the Brooklyn Borough Hall at a "studentprivacy town hall meeting" devoted to the issue. Around 150 people gathered to express their frustrations and hear from New YorkDepartment of Education representatives. Holding handmade posters with sloganslike “Our kids, not your data,” the group voiced unease about the creation ofthe portal, which many fear is gathering too much data about their children,will sell information to commercial vendors and will be vulnerable to hacking. 

New York is one of eight states,including Illinois and Massachusetts that is participating in inBloom’s pilottests this year before the software is rolled out more broadly. On April 19, Louisiana Department of Education Superintendent John White withdrew his state's participation in inBloom.

On Monday, the NewYork City DOE tried to allay fears by outlining the privacy and security laws(namely FERPA)that inBloom and other contracted vendors will have to follow whenaccessing student data. The DOE also talked up the portal’s expected benefitsto students, parents and teachers, such as more personalized learning. Butsince the DOE had only one speaking representative at the town hall event,comments from parents and local officials dominated the meeting.

Those comments were occasionallyshouted. Before the meeting even began, a Queens parent yelled to the crowd:“It’s an outrage, an outrage what’s happening here!”

He was referring to thefact that inBloom had not sent a representative and the two New York Staterepresentatives in attendance were there only as observers and would not takequestions. Similar outbursts occurred throughout the event, often accompaniedby applause. Leonie Haimson, a parent advocate and education activist whoorganized the town hall, says she invited inBloom and the Bill & MelindaGates Foundation, which partly funded inBloom, but both declined to appear.

In a recent piece by blogger, Audrey Watters, an inBloom spokesperson offered these comments:

inBloom is not creating a national database. It is providing a secure data service to help school districts manage the information needed for learning, and to support local educational goals. Only school districts decide who has access to that information and for what purpose. Student data will not be combined across states; each participating state and district will have its own protected space in the inBloom service, and they will continue to manage and control access to their student data based on local policies. There is no public or third-party access to data unless it is authorized by a school district or state educational agency to support a local priority. inBloom does not offer any research or aggregated reporting beyond what school districts or state educational agencies implement.

The town hall, whichlasted about two hours, was a mix of speeches, presentations and Q&A time. “I know this is an incredibly volatile issue,” saidMargaret Kelley, the education policy analyst for Brooklyn Borough President MartyMarkowitz.

New York’s LearningDisabilities Association was more direct in its resistance. Executive Director Stephen Boese argued that disclosure of a student’s learningdisability is solely the right of that student or that student’s parent(s), nota “third-party entity” like inBloom. “There is still a lot of discriminationregarding learning disabilities,” noted Boese. “We see abuse of children whenthe wrong information gets out in the cybersphere.

Haimson underscoredthose points in her presentation, which listed the many types of datainBloom could potentially assemble about a student, including race/ethnicity,disciplinary records and economic and disability status. Haimson alsocharacterized data storage ‘in the cloud’ as risky. “This could damage ourchildren’s prospects for life if it leaks out,” she asserted.

In a slide entitled,“Though risks to privacy great, benefits hypothetical,” Haimson questioned theclaims of greater efficiency, data integration and more personalized learningtools proposed by inBloom and its advocates. One cited reason: the NYC DOE has operated a student data system called ARIS since 2008, but Haimson and other parents say it is not helpful and hardlyused.

What most angersHaimson is the lack of parental consent. Since school districts ownand control student data records, parents can’t opt out of New York’s education data portal or other inBloom-based systems. InBloom’s online FAQ instructs worried parents to contact their school districts to “inquire abouttheir policies.”

Adina Lopatin, the NYC DOE’s deputy chief academic officer, spoke after Haimson. Lopatin characterized the upcoming education data portal as similar toARIS, though more fully-featured. She said the portal, which is currently underconstruction, would “support instructional planning and better meet studentneeds” while saving New York money and enabling common data standards for the entire state. 

Lopatin also said inBloom and other vendorswill have to comply with FERPA regulations regarding data privacy and security,that contrary to rumors, none of those entities would ‘own’ or ‘sell’ studentdata  and that New York City and State were only supplying some student demographic, participation and performance information to inBloom,not the full gamut of data inBloom is capable of processing and storing.

Regarding parentalpermission and legality, Lopatin said FERPA has two provisions that allow thistype of data outsourcing (both located in the Act's part 99.31). InBloom is only gathering educational records--noHIPAA information, according to Lopatin. She alsoclarified that New York has already transmitted student data--from across thestate--to inBloom. That disclosure provoked an impassioned response from the audience,which thought the data was still being prepared. 

During the lengthyQ&A that followed Lopatin’s presentation, more than 20 attendees detailedtheir inBloom worries. One retired educatorposited teachers are the best insight into students’ needs. “No databaseis going to be of any use for that,” she said. Several attendees exhorted thecrowd to “take to the streets” and “stand up and fight back.” “Don’t just getangry, call the politicians, tweet about it,” urged one mother. “We should bescreaming from the rooftops…this is scary stuff.”

Haimson is working hard to mobilize parents and ended the meeting by encouraging attendees toask their state senators and assembly members to cosponsor two pending studentprivacy bills. Introduced in March, the companion bills S04284 and A06059 would essentially block inBloom by prohibiting the release of personallyidentifiable student information without parental consent. Haimson alsorecommended contacting New York Regents, who supervise educational activitieswithin the state, and the New York City Schools Chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott.To organize efforts, Haimson has created an email listserv dedicated to studentprivacy issues.


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